Image stolen from Brownstoner
(See the end of this post for what is going on with this series)
Friday night, during Maggi’s and my Summer New York Adventure, we visited some old and dear family friends for dinner across the water in the dark far-off land of Brooklyn. An added bonus to the good food and conversation that they offered was that they live easy walking distance from 210 Smith Street, the address of the famous Clover Club.
After the relatively anonymous entrances of Pegu Club and Painkiller, the wide open entrance of Clover Club and the large visible sign over it was an interesting change of pace. We entered the main bar, and since it was full, we slipped to the back and grabbed seats at the second bar in the smaller, more cozy back room.
The basic vibe I got from Clover Club is that of a magnificent, pre-prohibition saloon, or perhaps gentleman’s club of that era. (The kind where the brass pole run under the patron’s feet, not up on stage….) The bars and bar backs are of elegant hard wood, with huge mirrors in the classic style. The sea of bottles, commercial and unlabeled alike, that crowd the bar top and shelves evoke a creative clutter and suggest that a game of Stump the Bartender would be a bootless quest herein. The back room is particularly cozy, with a fireplace, antique-esque furniture and oriental rugs.
The bartender working the back bar by himself was Nick, an itinerant pro who works in many places. He was fun to watch and pleasant to talk to. One of the joys I got from all the places we visited in New York was the bartenders’ conversation. At times, of course, it was impossible for them to talk due to the press of thirsty customers, but when they had time, a knowledgeable question or two would unlock a torrent of useful and educational information. Nick was perhaps the best at this of all we spoke to. The questions he answered and the information he offered beyond what I asked showed his love for his profession as much as his incredibly fast but meticulous work.
Since I kind of felt Clover Club had a bit of the feel that imagined would have been found at the Pendennis Club in its heyday, I needed to order an Old-Fashioned. For a twist, I asked for a rum version and got one of the most perfect drinks, in flavor, appearance, preparation and presentation, that I had in New York.
The glass was a plain, straight-sided cylinder, as boring by itself as can be. The drink was as classically old-fashioned an… Old-Fashioned as you could ask (with simple syrup instead of a sugar cube—things have to get done with some alacrity) as well.
The magic began with the ice. Clover Club uses a perfect cylinder of the cold stuff, just a bit smaller than inside of the glass, and nearly crystal clear. Nick peeled a twist of orange the entire circumference of the fruit, trimmed it perfectly straight, and spiraled it around between ice and glass. The remaining gap was filled with delicious and surprisingly copious cocktail. Needless to say, I’m in search of the perfect glass and mold paring to duplicate this for my own Old-Fashioneds.
We had a number of rounds, and all were lovely. (Though I just don’t see myself ever growing to truly love the Last Word, even if it leaves a hole in my Classic Cocktail Cred) I’ll simply mention one drink of Maggi’s that was particularly good and has already led to some experimentation on my own, Clover Club’s Bitter Tom. It is a
rum gin* drink that demonstrates the secret to making Campari work just may be grapefruit….
Of all the bars we went to, Clover Club was a narrow winner in the “Damn, I wish I lived close by this bar” category. It is welcoming and open, with meticulous service, and a wonderful atmosphere. Young or old, hipster or old-school, anyone who appreciates good things and people will find themselves happy drinking here. If you appreciate fine cocktails before you enter, you’ll be deliriously happy. If you don’t understand the fuss, you likely will when you’ve tried this place. This last goes for all the places I’m reviewing from New York, but Clover Club seems the most convivial not only to those looking for a “cocktail experience”, but also to those who just want to hang with some friends who all happen to have meticulous taste.
*Clover Club’s head bartender, Brad Farran wrote me this morning to gently remind me that the Bitter Tom, which he created, is made with gin instead of rum. It was nice of him to not laugh in my face. I make this note down here because it is an interesting illustration of the perils of bar reporting: Even contemporaneous notes may become, um, garbled….
The Summer New York Adventure is the first truly kid-free vacation Maggi and I have taken since, well, we’ve had kids. By day, we’ll be exploring Manhattan’s Garment District, buying fabric for Maggi’s coture workings, and by night we shall explore the SoHo dining and drinking offerings, which should give me some of the best material to blog about in a good long while! Cheers!